Ask about Métis food and cultural interpreters will tell
you, "Rubaboo and Bannock." Ask a member of the Métis community and they
may answer "Bologni and Hamburger Soup." Métis tend to prefer a diet
heavy on meat but because of circumstances they are also very good at
adapting their diet.
While much can be learned of the Métis life and ecology from the fur
trade records, the Métis were not always privy to the same food staples
as the men employed by the trading companies. While families employed in
the fur trade had access to both the wild food basket and staples (and
sometimes luxuries) from Europe, the Métis community had less and
decreasing access to certain products, as their usefulness and cash flow
diminished. After the amalgamation of the HBC and the NWC, many Métis
men were laid off, and forced to find other modes of employment. Some
found employment in freighting, buffalo hunting and provisioning, and
later, in the buffalo robe trade, followed by the buffalo bones market.
That list of markets demonstrates a steady decline in the Métis world,
as the buffalo, a resource many depended on, became more and more
The Métis people came to live on other animals, as their prime
resource failed. In peak rabbit years, everyone ate rabbit until they
were sick of it. They hunted deer, elk and moose. When things were
really bad, they ate smaller animals. Some of the families looked for
work in the new areas, where there were new jobs. The men went to the
gold fields, and worked on railway construction crews. They moved to
mining towns and worked under ground. Some became a permanent part of
the ranching world in southern Alberta.
The hard time they had finding employment is signalled by the diet of
bologna and hamburger soup. They adapted to the new reality and learned
to stretch scarce resources to feed large families. Métis websites
highlight several soup recipes. The preference for soups may have begun
with life in the open, when the easiest ways to cook were to roast meat
over open fires or to boil meat with seasonings and vegetables in a
Other favourite Métis treats were made from berries that were
gathered in the summer. Favourite berries were raspberries,
chokecherries and saskatoons. Raspberries could be pressed into cakes
and dried. Chokecherries were mashed, with the pits left in and smashed.
The resulting mixture was added to other dishes. Having a taste for the
acerbic chokecherry is a marker of belonging to the prairies. Everyone
enjoyed saskatoons, which were cleaned and dried into little raisins.
The Métis women also used herbs in their cooking. They knew where to
find sage and mint growing wild, as well as wild onions, wild turnip and
other edible roots. Burdock, arrowhead and cattails all have edible
roots. For greens, one could use lamb’s quarters (also known as
pigweed), chickweed and dandelion, for example. As Métis people began to
settle, they started gardens and raised most of the common vegetables:
potatoes, turnips, onions, carrots, peas and beans. Some of the Métis
became good gardeners and good at maintaining the wild crop plants and
bushes. In some Métis communities in Manitoba, they maintain sugar
maples, and produce maple syrup and maple sugar.
Midwives and Traditional Healing